“I’m just not into Asian guys,” I would say flippantly as I dated my way through the rainbow of white, brown, black, and latte-colored men.
“I’m not sure why,” I would say.
I may not have known why I didn’t like Asian men but I did know that my preferences go way back. I recently found a journal entry I wrote when I was an 8-year-old in Malaysia declaring that I wanted to marry a blue-eyed blond man. Where would a child who had never even met a Caucasian person get this notion from?
It took me 20 years to finally realize that it wasn’t an “innate” preference. I had been bathed in an infinite number of media sources and cultural innuendos suggesting to me that Asian men were meek, effeminate, and less endowed from the moment I was born. Asian masculinity? Those two words were simply not used together in my childhood.
Growing up, I could think of zero Hollywood male romantic leads that were Asian. Prior to the blockbuster hit Crazy Rich Asians, Asian actors in Hollywood had one role — to be a token. Like the stereotypical bridesmaids, we were never allowed to be better looking, richer, or more successful. Smarter, yes — but only if we were also geekier and awkwardly comedic. Any male actor wanting to play a lead role had also better know some Kung Fu. And never, never should an Asian guy deign to be sexually desirable.
Asian women, on the other hand, are frequently fetishized. We are seen as gentle, submissive, and exotic. It is not uncommon to see Asian women in the arms of white men on billboards but there were never white women in the arms of Asian men.
So what happens when you have a lifetime of being told that Asian women are desirable and Asian men are not? The ability to say, “I’m just not that into Asian men and I don’t need to explain or even question why because the whole world feels the same way.”
Over the years, I met many Asian men who challenged my biases of Asian male desirability. I met Asian men who were elite athletes with perfect bodies and six-pack abs. I met Asian men who were outgoing, funny, and charming. And yes, I even met Asian men who were well-endowed. Yet, it still didn’t occur to me that my “preference” didn’t make sense until I attended one fateful party.
At the party, I overheard an Asian guy tell his friend why he wasn’t going to talk to the cute girl he was interested in. This attractive, well-built Asian man said, “I heard my sister talking to a friend today. She said, “Tony is great, but I can’t date him. I’m just not into Asian guys.” It made me realize that if even Asian girls aren’t into us, what chance do I have?”
He looked down on the floor in front of him. His wound was real and it ran deep. He looked so hurt. “My own sister. I thought with three brothers who adore her, she would see Asian men differently.”
It was then that I realized that I was the bully in the schoolyard and I didn’t even know it. Women like me who never questioned why they weren’t “into” Asian men are part of the problem. With one short sentence, I had painted an entire race as undesirable.
“It’s just a preference. I’m not racist against my own race,” I would say defensively. A preference that not a single one of over a billion Asian men could fulfill. I still shake my head at how ludicrous that sounds. The brainwashing is so insidious because I had never even realized there was something wrong. The biggest problem with this “preference”?
It’s not a preference. It’s racism.
This sentence felt like a punch in the face when I first saw it in writing. Trust me, it’s very confronting to recognize that you’ve been racist against your own race. Naturally, I got defensive and tried to find reasons why it couldn’t be true.
But here’s how I know it is. I never used to say, “Most of the men I happen to have a connection with are Caucasian but if I met an Asian I clicked with, I would totally go on a date with them.” I always said, “I’m just not that into Asian men.” That statement covers past, present, and any future Asian men I might meet.
A preference is saying, “I’m generally not compatible with men who adopt traditionally Asian values.” Racism is saying, “I’m not into Asian men.”
See the difference? It’s not a matter of circumstance, it’s a matter of race.
If you happen to be a woman and frequently say this too, I hope that this article gives you some pause. That you take some time to examine where this preference comes from and if you have chosen it. Whatever race you may be, if you hold the belief that Asian men are effeminate and undesirable, you may be racist without being aware of it.
I think we still have a long way to go when Asian leading roles only happen if they are portrayed with a ridiculous amount of wealth. One day, maybe we will routinely see Asian romantic leads in blockbuster Hollywood movies that aren’t made up of all-Asian casts about insanely wealthy people. Still, it’s a start.
The rest of the world may take longer to recognize the non-wealthy Asian as desirable but I, for one, will make the conscious choice to see all Asian men — rich or poor, model looks or not — differently. You are no longer invisible. You are no longer perpetually confined to the friend zone.
To all the Asian men out there, I’m sorry it took me so long to see you.
“We can re-define what being an Asian male is for us. Not let movies, media, other people, and the way they treat us define us. We don’t have to let that define who we are.” — Kevin Kreider, Asian American adoptee and model featured in “The Ugly Model” documentary.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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